In the coming days, Powell High School students will decide whether to try out for a sports team. Gabby Harshman, a volleyball player who graduated from PHS in May, has some advice for those who …
In the coming days, Powell High School students will decide whether to try out for a sports team. Gabby Harshman, a volleyball player who graduated from PHS in May, has some advice for those who might be discouraged from a prior bad season or experience: Go for it.
“I would encourage any athlete who has failed in any way just to, you know, keep persevering and don’t stop,” Harshman said earlier this year. “If it’s something that you know you want to succeed at and you have a passion for it and you want to do it, don’t hold yourself back; just go do it.”
Making a team requires hard work and practice. But Harshman can attest that persistence and grit can pay off: She rebounded from both physical and emotional adversity to have a successful senior season for the Panther volleyball team a year ago.
A love of volleyball
Harshman’s mother, Lisa, got her into volleyball at a young age, and “I just fell in love with it,” she said.
Harshman played through middle school and her freshman year at PHS. When she started fall practices her sophomore year, “I thought for sure I was going to make the team,” she recalled.
But she didn’t. “... I was crushed,” Harshman said.
Getting cut can signal the end of a prep athlete’s competitive career; the rejection stings and bitterness can creep in.
“Every part of me was telling me, like, ‘Don’t go back. … They don’t deserve you,’” Harshman recalled, but “there’s just that 1% telling me, ‘No, go back. You know you’re stronger than this.’”
That 1% won out. She worked hard during the offseason and through the summer.
“She signed up for every camp she could,” Lisa recalled. “I told my friends whose kids played volleyball and who had been cut in the past, and they were shocked that I would allow Gabby to go through with this just to be hurt again.
“I told them, ‘I have to support her,’” Lisa said.
Harshman returned to the Panther Gym for volleyball tryouts in the fall of 2018 — and made the team.
“Gabby was ecstatic. … She couldn’t believe it,” Lisa said. “Lots of friends and players came up to her and told her how proud they were of her, that she came back with everything in the cards against her and made the team.”
A health scare
Still, it wasn’t the Cinderella season Harshman might have hoped for. She didn’t dress out for the state tournament — and, behind the scenes, something was amiss with her health.
Since the winter of 2017, Harshman had been grappling with increasing fatigue, chest pain and shortness of breath that required some trips to the emergency room. And things got worse as the 2018 volleyball season wore on.
“Gabby would say, ‘Mom something is wrong, sometimes I get dizzy on the court and don’t feel like I know what is going on, I feel confused at times,’” Lisa recalled. “She still complained of extreme fatigue, shortness of breath, and … not really sleeping well even though she was tired.”
When Harshman’s hair began falling out, the family and doctors realized the problem that had been building for years: iron deficiency anemia.
“That was just kind of a turning point,” Harshman said. After starting treatment, “you’re like, wow, this is what feeling good feels like,” she said.
With her health improved, Harshman again put in the work through the volleyball offseason and entered her senior year “the strongest I have ever seen her,” Lisa recalled.
The work translated into a strong campaign, too, as Harshman helped lead the Panther team, posting solid stats and earning a sportsmanship award.
“It was a payoff, you know?” Harshman said, adding, “My whole sports career I feel like I was just, like, another one of those girls that played a sport and weren’t very good. And so when I came out and really showed myself, it was really nice. It was a total game changer, my senior year.”
The 2019-2020 school year was still no fairy tale. It began with one of Harshman’s classmates suffering serious injuries in a motor vehicle crash and ended amid the COVID-19 pandemic disrupting just about everything.
It was hard, “but I don’t know,” Harshman said. “I feel like there’s so much bad that at one point you just need to start just looking at the good and everything.”
Harshman will start classes at Northwest College later this month with plans to become a dental hygienist. Though she gave it some thought, Harshman said she’s not planning on trying out for the Trapper volleyball team and will instead focus on her coursework and preparations for her career.
But for those unsure about whether to try out for prep sports, Harshman says to give it everything you have, by attending camps and doing the work.
“Even though you might end up with a situation that you don’t like, you could also end up in a good situation like I was blessed with,” she said. “And at the end, at least you can say, ‘You know what? I gave it my all.’”